Opposite dugout: Braves starters have struggled but might have turned a corner

braves-logo.jpgManager: Brian Snitker (2nd year)

Record: 27-35

Last 10 games: 5-5

Who to watch: C Tyler Flowers (.343/.450/.455), LF Matt Kemp (.326/.361/.549, 10 home runs, 31 RBIs), CF Ender Inciarte (.299/.354/.414, 10 stolen bases), RF Nick Markakis (.284/.361/.369, 15 doubles, 32 RBIs), RHP Jim Johnson (4-1, 3.38 ERA, 12 saves)

Season series vs. Nationals: 2-4

Pitching probables:

June 12: RHP Mike Foltynewicz vs RHP Stephen Strasburg, 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 13: RHP R.A. Dickey vs. RHP Joe Ross, 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 14: RHP Julio Teheran vs. RHP Tanner Roark, 4:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Braves:

The Braves can hit. Their team batting average is fourth best in the National League (the Nationals are at the top). The Braves rank second in on-base percentage, and Atlanta batters have struck out fewer times than those of any other NL club. The Braves offense took a devastating hit, however, when Freddie Freeman took a pitch off his left wrist in mid-May. When the resulting fracture sidelined the first baseman for an estimated 10-12 weeks, he had been on a pace to hit 61 homers and 109 RBIs. The Nationals' scorching start, meanwhile, has left Atlanta 11 games back, seemingly destined to fight the Mets and Marlins for second place in the National League East.

Three of the Braves' everyday players (not counting Freeman) are hitting above .300. At the top of the club's batting-average leaderboard is catcher Tyler Flowers. He's been strong defensively, too, making just one error so far in 2017 while posting a .996 fielding percentage. Matt Kemp, in his first full season with the Braves after San Diego dealt the veteran in exchange for prospect Hector Olivera, has homered 10 times so far in 2017, second on the club to Freeman. Like Kemp, Nick Markakis has been producing in the big leagues since 2006. He flies under the radar of many fans because he doesn't hit many homers. But fellow big-leaguers praise him as a consummate pro and a tough out. Markakis is hitting .316 with runners in scoring position, and his 32 RBIs lead the team. Gold Glove center fielder Ender Inciarte was on a tear for the first eight days of June, batting .448 with a home run, two doubles and seven RBIs.

The Atlanta pitching staff is 11th in the league in ERA, and in 13th place in runs allowed. The starters, especially, have struggled. Two are carrying ERAs north of five. One of them, the heretofore ageless Bartolo Colón, is now on the disabled list. All three starters lined up against the Nationals this week, however, are coming off strong outings. Monday's starter, Mike Foltynewicz (4-5, 3.48 ERA, 1.284 WHIP) has stepped up his game in his last two starts, going seven shutout innings in each of them. On June 2 at Cincinnati, Foltynewicz struck out 10, walked just two and gave up two hits but got no decision in the Braves' loss. On June 7, he picked up a win at home against the Phillies in which he scattered four hits and struck out four batters. On Tuesday, R.A. Dickey (4-4, 4.73 ERA, 1.507 WHIP) takes the hill, as he has in major league parks since 2001. Dickey peaked in 2012 with a Cy Young Award season for the Mets. Now 42, the knuckleballer is no longer at that level, but he's still quite capable of getting big league hitters out. In his last start, June 8, Dickey held the Phillies to one run on three hits while striking out eight batters over seven innings. Julio Teheran (5-4, 5.08 ERA, 1.486 WHIP) starts Wednesday's finale. He's only marginally better against right-handed batters than lefties. Teheran went six strong innings against the Mets in his last start, giving up just one run on a solo homer. However, the last time faced the Nationals - April 19 in Atlanta - Washington batters touched him up for seven runs and seven hits and three walks over just four innings.

Atlanta closer Jim Johnson struggled in the early going this year, blowing two saves and pitching to a 5.19 ERA in his first eight appearances. Since that stretch, he's converted nine of 11 save opportunities. In his last three outings, Johnson has picked up one save and two wins, both of those in games he entered with the score tied.

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